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Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains

By Tom Isern

Published by Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, ND, 2000, 195 pages, hardcover.


The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to present Tom Isern's book, Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains.

Chapter 5, " Und Auch der Belzenickel," shares the story of the Christkindl which means "Christ Child," which was a tradition at Christmas for the Germans from Russia community in North Dakota. Isern also reflects about attending the dedication of the homestead of bandleader Lawrence Welk, located near Strasburg, ND. Isern writes: "We were looking into German-Russian culture-of the Black Sea Catholic German variety, not Mennonite or Volga German, such as I knew in Kansas...What most impressed my group, though, was the beautiful St. Peter and Paul Church of Strasburg. Father Leonard Eckroth was cordial, and the ladies of the German-Russian Heritage Society served coffee and kuchen in the basement. But it was the ornamentation of the church, even more than the hospitality of its parishioners, that was stunning."

Chapter 12, "Every One a Greenhead," tells the story of Ernie Zahn, Velva, ND, who grew up in western Kansas. Isern writes: "Ernie was born in 1915 to a German-Russian farm family in Dickey County, North Dakota, the twelfth of thirteen children, and his father died when he was just three. So he and his brothers did all sorts of things to make a little money and carry the family through."

John E. Miller, Professor of History, South Dakota State University, and author of Looking for History on Highway 14, writes: "The author has great hopes for the Great Plains, because despite a history of human and environmental tragedy, eventually the land has its way with people, space becomes place, and viable, even elegant patterns of culture emerge. People stand more squarely on their own feet, they speak for themselves, they build structures that back up their words, and they relate to one another in the fashion of a community. This is a work in progress." Confident in the regional future, historian and traveler Tom Isern is free to explore the delights of regional life -- from fiberglass pheasants to Montana caviar -- and to invite readers of Dakota Circle along for some excursions on the true plains."

"The author wears his erudition lightly, serving up his nuggets of information and insight in conversational style. This is a page turner. I'd compare, what the author has done to work by Kathleen Norris, Ian Frazier, and William Least Heat Moon. It ranks favorably alongside any one of them. It informs us about our regional culture and does it in an engaging way. It is uniquely readable."

Tom Isern, professor of History at North Dakota State University, has lived his entire life on the Great Plains of North America. Because his mid-life crisis began early at age nineteen, he has a long time thinking about what it means to live and work on the plains. He has written or co-authored five previous books about life on the plains and since 1983, he has co-authored the weekly newspaper column, "Plains Folk." During the same year for publication of Dakota Circle, he was named NDSU's Fargo Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Professor.

Tom Isern
Ernie Zahn, Velva, ND, retired professional hunter, with trophies of his career.
Dedication faces at the Lawrence Welk homestead dedication, Strasburg, ND.


Dakota Circle

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Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
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